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Senior Sub Editor at The New Indian Express, Kochi. Previously worked with Doordarshan News, New Delhi. Also had short stints with Madhyamam, Jaihind TV and Kerala Kaumudi.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma: Architect of Modern Kerala

"Greatest on the virtue of humbleness
An eloquent who maintains the state of an ascetic 
An icon of simplicity but of great dignity"

Blessed with the above mentioned qualities Sree Chithira Thirunal was the last ruling maharaja of the princely state of Travancore and one of prominent persons who played a pivotal role in the formation of Modern Kerala. The period of Sree Chithira Thirunal witnessed many-sided progress and he is considered as the most popular ruler of Kerala.

Balarama Varma was born on Deepavali day in 1912 as the eldest son of Sethu Parvathi Bayi and Ravi Varma Kochu Koil Thampuran of Kilimanoor. He took the regnal name 'Sree Chithira Thirunal,' as he was born in the Chithira star of Malayalam Month.From childhood onwards the prince was excellent in studies and had a good knowledge in Malayalam, Sanskrit and English. He was also outstanding in science and literature and had a special affection to horse riding, tennis, photography and painting.

On November 7, 1931 Sree Chithira Thirunal reigned under the regency of his maternal aunt, Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi and by that time he had sharpened all his inborn skills.

He took over the reigns at the age of 19 but his nobility can be witnessed at his first speech to the public-

"I wish to get the love and respect of all sessions of the people. My prime attention will be to give the people prosperity and happiness. I think to attain that goal I should be vigilant and otherwise it could not be achieved".

Following the tradition of Marthanda Varma who dedicated the Kingdom of Travancore to the Lord Sri Padmanabhaswamy Sree Chithira Thirunal held the stone for the modernisation of social, political and cultural era of Travancore. He implemented certain changes in the field of education, amusement, transport and science for the sake of common people. He also succeeded in making Travancore a prominent princely state in India and later on paved the way for the Kerala state.

Sree Chithira Thirunal fought against superstitions and suppressed bad conducts thereby sending a moral message to the society. He made foreign tours via sea route in order to make mockery of the superstitions related to sea.He also used his foreign trips to collect details about the cultural and artistic forms of those countries. The information gathered about the lifestyle, patriotism, scientific development, healthcare and education from the foreign countries were successfully used in the creation of Modern Kerala.

Shri Chithira Thirunal made the Temple Entry Proclamation in 1936 abolishing the ban on low-caste people from entering Hindu Temples. The promulgation of "Temple Entry Proclamation" was an act that underlined social emancipation.
The edict is as follows:

    "Profoundly convinced of the truth and validity of our religion, believing that it is based on divine guidance and on all-comprehending toleration, knowing that in its practice it has throughout the centuries, adapted itself to the needs of changing times, solicitous that none of our Hindu subjects should, by reason of birth or caste or community, be denied the consolation and the solace of the Hindu faith, we have decided and hereby declare, ordain and command that, subject to such rules and conditions as may be laid down and imposed by us for preserving their proper atmosphere and maintaining their rituals and observances, there should henceforth be no restriction placed on any Hindu by birth or religion on entering or worshipping at temples controlled by us and our Government."

This epoch- making declaration was the first of Its kind in India and appropriately did Mahatma Gandhi hail this as an "Epic of Travancore". This silent, bloodless revolution was a harbinger of many social changes in the State.

Sree Chithira Thirunal was the first ruler in Asia who stopped death sentence. He was also the last surviving Knight Grand Commander of both the Order of the Star of India and of the Order of the Indian Empire. It's difficult to write down all his contributions but can be differentiated according to different fields.

1. Education

Sree Chithira Thirunal believed that education can play a key role in the progress of the nation. He was instrumental in establishing different educational institutions. The list of educational institutions started by him is as follows

1. University of Kerala

2. Swathi Thirunal Academy

3. Manuscripts Library

4.Trivandrum Engineering College

5. Institute of Textile Technology

6. Central Research Institute for Applied science

Educational Reforms of Sree Chithira Thirunal

1. Made primary education compulsory in the southern Travancore region

2. Allowed 40% of per capita income for the expenditure of education

3 Supported Audio-visual courses

4. Implemented kindergarten system

5. Introduced Marine Biology

6. Started new colleges for Fine arts

7. Introduced College Union elections 

2. Government Jobs

Sree Chithira Thirunal established the Public service commission and ensured reservation for the back ward communities. He also started the gratuity policy for government employees. 

3. Industry

He successfully used his foreign trips to Austria, London, Belgium and Rome to invite foreign investments and create job opportunities in Kerala. 

Industries launched by Sree Chithira Thirunal 

1. Aluva FACT
2. Travancore Rubber Works
3. Travancore Cycle Factory
4. Travancore Titanium Products
5. Travancore-Cochin Chemicals
6. Sugar Mills,Thakkala 
7. Kundara Ceramics
8. Sree Chithira Mills, Aluva
9. Vijayamohini Mills, Trivandrum
10. Punalur Paper Mills
11. Indian Rare Earths
12. Textile Factory, Aluva
13. Vanchinad House and Industries
14. Quilon Pencil factory
15. Kottayam cement factory 
16. Balarama Varma Textiles, Chenkotta
17. Aluminium factory, Aluva
18. Aluminium factory, Kundara

4. Agriculture

Sree Chithira Thirunal was aware of the fact that his motherland's soul is agriculture. He was keen to find new places suitable for agriculture and to provide economic assistance to the farmers. His new measures in that field was also helpful for the banking sector.

Contributions of Sree Chithira Thirunal in the field of Agriculture

1. Established Agricultural banks and provided loans to farmers on attractive schemes.

2. Assured 12.5% reduction on Land tax

3. Formed a committee to gather information about the adversities of farmers. On the basis of the report new bills were presented at the assembly.

4. Take steps to cut down tax payment due to low yield of crops  in certain Taluks.

5. Provided assistance to those who suffered crop losses due to natural disasters.

5. Forest

Sree Chithira Thirunal has allotted a certain percentage of land  for planting and developing forests. He took the initiative to widen the Teak plantations. During his regime acres of land were converted into teak plantations providing huge amount of income to the government. 

6. Amusement

He played a major role in making Thekkady a world famous tourist destination. Swathi Thirunnal College of music is a perfecexample for his love to music. Sri Chitra Art gallery in Trivandrum also portraits Sree Chithira Thirunal as a true admirer of art. The Gallery has a vast collection of paintings not just from India, but also countries like Japan, China and Indonesia.  It is one of the few art galleries in India, which boasts the finest exhibits of both ancient and modern schools of Indian art.

7.Hydro electric Projects

Starting of the first Hydro Electric Project at Pallivasal owes its origin to the personal initiative and direct inspiratiof'r of the Maharaja. It was during his reign that the major industries which form the backbone of the Kerala's industrial structure were started. He also devoted his attention to irrigation, especially in South Travancore area where water scarcity was a common occurrence.

8. Transport

The modernisation of Thiruvananthapuram by the construction of broader roads and provision of better amenities of life were some of the striking features of his reign.

Contributions of Sree Chithira Thirunnal in the field of Transport

1. To provide cheaper transport facility to the people Motor service and boat service were put under the control of the government. 

2. Extended the pier at Trivandrum Port

3. Modernized the ports at Kollam, Kulachal and Kanyakumari

4. Constructed a concrete road from Trivandrum to Kanyakumari

5. Constructed an airport at Shangumugham

Contribution of Sree Chithira Thirunnal in the field of Health
1. Taken steps to construct a drainage system in Trivandrum

2. Modernized the hospitals

3. Arranged X-ray facilities

4. Equipped the surgical units with modern technology

5. Established Medical college

6. Opened new Ophthalmic clinics

7. Started speciality hospitals for the treatment of Tuberculosis 

8. Expanded the functioning of hospitals for Women and children 

9. Formed medical camps to prevent Malaria

10. Issued circulars for promoting vaccination

His investiture made the land ring with unbounded joy. It ushered in the dawn of a new era- an era of political progress and social reform. The state pulsated with a new life. His untainted liberalism expressed itself in granting increased autonomy of legislative bodies. He gave a new orientation to the army, infused a fresh life into the administration and made the citizens conscious of their civic rights. 
His highness has revolutionized the social fabric. His austereness is evidenced in all his beneficent deeds. He has in a rare degree that titanic will which is the soul of state-craft.

His name will shine on the tablet of  Indian history as one of the great benefactors of humanity. 

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